Based on the Dani Umpi novel of the same name, Miss Tacuarembó tells the classic story of a small town girl with big, Hollywood dreams. But in the tiny, freakishly religious Uruguayan town of Tacuarembó, these dreams are simply unacceptable.
The story of Natalia (Natalia Oreiro) begins when she receives a TV set for her birthday—a gift sent from Jesus himself, according to Natalia. Once she has a television, Natalia and her best friend Carlos become obsessed with the glamour of Flashdance and telenovelas. Their days are spent creating choreographies and dressing up in torn-up tees, à la Jennifer Beals. These two kids are different from the rest of their town. Natalia is tormented for actually believing she’ll one day be famous. Carlos is teased for being gay, something his mother can’t even identify, and even asks inside the church, “What is a homosexual?” But even though it seems we’ve seen this film one too many times, Miss Tacuarembó is definitely different. Director Martín Sastre manages to mesh genres and worlds into a simple story of a Jesus-loving girl craving stardom.
The film goes back and forth between the story of 10-year-old Natalia and the 30-year-old Cristal (Natalia’s stage name, taken from her favorite telenovela character). It’s been 10 years since Natalia left home and now she lives in Argentina, working in the only theme park approved by the Vatican, Cristo Park. She and Carlos are still going to auditions, creating choreographies, and hoping one day, she’ll be able to sing on TV. In the meantime, Natalia’s mother, after 10 years since last speaking to her daughter, seeks the help of the famous reality TV show, Todo Por Un Sueño (Anything for a Dream).
The storylines are all interwoven in a dizzying web of fantasy and satire. The film has great dialogue—funny, quick, refreshing. There are musical numbers that instead of being hilarious take a turn for “creepy,” and there are awkward shifts that make it seem there were too many ideas, too little time. But the performances are convincing, especially those of the younger Natalia (Sofia Silveira) and Carlos (Mateo Capo). But the stereotypical characterization of some can go a bit overboard, like the story villain, Cándida, also played by Oreiro. Complete with terrible make-up, Cándida is a character that could have been good, but in the task of making her a South American Jesus Camp-er, she becomes too overdone and ends up looking completely stupid.
The movie as a whole risks looking stupid, but actually manages to keep everything on the funny side. It cleverly speaks of issues that might seem serious, like religion and sin, and gives them an entertaining spin. While we’ve heard the story of a small town girl wanting to go to Hollywood, it’s fascinating to see the influence of television and the impact of the so-called American Dream on a religious South American girl.
In the end, Miss Tacuarembó is still a story of family, friendship, and the journey one must take to conquer the world. It’s a story of confidence, faith, and perseverance. Natalia, as a 30-year-old who’s never truly achieved anything, might be pathetic to the casting director of a reality show. She might be a little too old to still be trying to reach her childhood dreams and still be wearing her ‘80s plastic wristwatch. But by the end, you’ll be rooting for Natalia and hoping if you ever run into Jesus, he looks as sexy and dances as well as he does in Miss Tacuarembó.
Watch the Spanish language trailer below:
This film was reviewed at the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival. Cine Las Americas is a multi-cultural, 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Austin Texas. The mission of Cine Las Americas is to promote cross-cultural understanding and growth by educating, entertaining and challenging diverse audiences through film and media arts.